Socialism and the less developed countries
'DO WE HAVE TO WAIT for the last Hottentot?' used to be a question asked of socialists. Behind it was the suggestion that the lack of industrial and social development in parts of the world might delay the establishment of Socialism. This is sometimes called the problem of the 'backward' countries but is more properly the problem of uneven development
The short answer is, No. There is no need for the whole world to be industrialised nor for the whole world population to be turned into propertyless wage-workers before Socialism can be established. We might add that perhaps the few remaining Hottentots in South Africa are wondering if they will have to wait for the last white man.
Let us get rid of one mistaken view straightaway. The less developed countries are not lagging behind because the people who live there are inherently inferior to those who live in the industrial countries. Racialism has no scientific basis. All human beings are members of the same animal species, homo sapians, and all are quite capable of absorbing modern culture in a short period of time. Such cultural differences as at present exist between the peoples of the world are not the result of different natures, but of different environments. It so happened that the peoples of Europe were the first to go through the industrial revolution and, as subsequent development of the other countries has shown, the people of other countries, given the opportunity, are just as capable of acquiring modern industrial skills. Indeed, they contributed in many diverse ways to the later development themselves. In Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, centres of highly-advanced industry are developing manned from top to bottom by local workers. It follows from this, if anyone ever doubted it, that all human beings are capable of understanding and operating Socialism.
The initial material basis for Socialism is the world-wide industrial organisation that capitalism has built up. The bulk of the wealth produced in the world today is produced by the co-operative labour of the millions of people who are employed to operate this organisation. Capitalism has brought into being the working class in whose economic interest it is to establish Socialism. This is why the strength of the socialist movement will come from the workers in the advanced capitalist parts of the world.
However, industrial development is by no means evenly spread over the world. In Europe, North America, Australasia, Japan, Russia, the great majority of the population live and work under capitalist conditions of production for profit and the wages system, while in some parts of the world capitalist industry is only an oasis in the midst of a desert of backward agriculture. In between are countries in varying stages of industrial development. As yet not all of mankind are propertyless wage-workers, many of the remainder being peasants exploited by landlords and moneylenders.
To say that a major part of mankind are not living under capitalist conditions as wage-earners is not to say that their lives are not affected by that system. Price fluctuations in the world market directly touch on their standard of living and they cannot escape the consequences of wars between capitalist powers. In view of this and in view of the fact that the bulk of the world's wealth is produced in the capitalist parts, we can say that capitalism is the predominant social system in the world today.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain rejects the suggestion that the workers must wait for capitalist production to predominate everywhere before trying to establish Socialism. A socialist society has been possible for many years now, for as many in fact as its industrial basis has existed. As soon as the workers of the world want to, they can establish the common ownership of the means of production and distribution and bring planned production to meet human needs.
Capitalism on a world scale has long been outdated so that its coming to the industrially undeveloped countries is not now a necessary stage in economic progress. Socialism involves the emancipation of all mankind and is the solution to the problems of the people of those countries as much as it is to the problems of the workers of the long-standing capitalist countries. When Socialism has been established there is no reason why these parts should not be developed under altogether different circumstances from those imposed by capitalism.
Whatever may be the long-term results, the immediate impact of capitalism on pre-industrial societies has everywhere been disastrous. Beginning with the slave trade in capitalism's early days it has now brought the world almost to the brink of famine. Capitalism breaks up existing societies in order to get the workers to labour on the plantations, down the mines and in the factories it sets up. The overall result has been terrible human suffering.
The Socialist Party does not accept that all this suffering is necessary and that people must still undergo it for the sake of a better future.
Because capitalism has everywhere outplayed its progressive role in developing the means of production, distribution and communication, the Socialist Party does not support the capitalist movements styling themselves 'national liberation' and 'anti-imperialist' which aim to gain political power in the less developed countries and by means of a ruthless policy of State capitalism (miscalled Socialism) to modernise and industrialise the areas they govern. Many of these movements, and the regimes they set up, are modelled on the Bolsheviks who as a determined minority seized power in Russia in 1917 and by a policy of dictatorship built up a modern capitalist economy with themselves as the new privileged and exploiting dass. As far as the people they aim to lead and govern are concerned, their coming to power represents merely a change of rulers and the prospect of being turned from peasants into exploited wage workers. Once again this has nothing to do with Socialism, and is quite unnecessary since the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribation on a world-wide scale has long been possible.
In many of the less developed countries political democracy does not yet exist. The governments there, whether representing the old landowning or the emerging capitalist class, stifle criticism and threaten the organisation of opposition parties and even of trade unions as plots to overthrow them. In such circumstances socialist activity is very difficult and the workers (being only a minority of the population), besides trying to organise into a socialist party ought also to struggle to get the freedom to organise into trade unions and win elementary political rights. As in the advanced capitalist countries, however, this should still involve opposition to all other parties in order that the socialist issue shall be kept free from confusion.
Socialists are sometimes asked about another aspect of uneven development. This relates to the possibility that the socialist movement could be larger in one country than in another and at the stage of being able to gain control of the machinery of government before the socialist movements elsewhere were as far advanced.
Leaving aside for the moment the question as to whether such a situation is likely to arise, we can say that it presents no problems when viewed against the world-wide character of the socialist movement. Because capitalist governments are organised on a territorial basis each socialist organisation has the task of seeking democratically to gain political control in the country where it operates. This however is merely an organisational convenience; there is only one socialist movement, of which the separate socialist organisations are constituent parts. When the socialist movement grows larger its activities will be fully co-ordinated through its world-wide organisation. Given a situation in which the organised socialists of only a part of the world were in a position to gain control of the machinery of government, the decision about the action to be taken would be one for the whole of the socialist movement in the light of all the circumstances at the time.
There remains the question whether in fact there will be material differences in the rate of growth of the sections of the world socialist movement. At present, throughout the advanced capitalist countries, the vast majority, because they are not yet socialist, share certain basic ideas about how society can and should be run. They accept that goods must be produced for sale with a view to profit; some men must work for wages while others must be employers; there must be armed forces and frontiers; and it is impossible to do without money and buying and selling. These ideas are held by people all over the world and it is this which accounts for the basic stability of capitalism at the present time.
It was Engels who remarked that a revolutionary period exists when people begin to realise that what they once thought was impossible can in fact be done. When people realise that it is possible to have a world without frontiers, without wages and profits, without employers and armed forces, then the socialist revolution will not be far away. But this advance in political understanding will be achieved by the same people who now think that capitalism is the only possible system. Because workers all over the world live under basically similar conditions and because of modern systems of communication, when they begin to see through capitalism this will apply everywhere. There is no reason at all why workers in one country should see this while those in others do not.
The very idea of Socialism, a new world society, is clearly and unequivocally a rejection of all nationalism. Those who become socialists will realise this and also the importance of uniting with workers in all countries. The socialist idea is not one that could spread unevenly.
Thus the socialist parties will be in a position to gain political control in the industrially advanced countries within a short period of each other. It is conceivable that in some less developed countries, where the working class is weak in numbers, the privileged rulers may be able to retain their class position for a little longer. But as soon as the workers had won in the advanced countries they would give all the help needed to their brothers elsewhere.
To sum up, we can say that the less developed countries might present Socialism with a problems, but they do not constitute a barrier to the immediate establishment of Socialism as a world system. Nationalism and colonial independence are not matters that ought to concern workers. Everywhere, in the less advanced as well as the more advanced countries, the workers should be striving for Socialism.
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